The Plesiosaur Project
Bringing Back the Tiger of the Cretaceous Seas
A project of the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute and the Mitchell School
In 2003, paleontologists discovered part of a large skull in Cretaceous rocks near Mitchell, Oregon. It belonged to a plesiosaur—a 25-foot-long marine reptile that lived during the Age of Dinosaurs, about 80-90 million years ago.
The Mitchell Plesiosaur was one of the top predators of the ocean at the time, and among the fastest swimmers. It was the Tiger of the Cretaceous seas.
OPLI has worked with the K-12 Mitchell School to bring the Plesiosaur “back to life” through a book, and an exciting exhibit built by the school, with the help of OPLI, artists, and scientists.
About the Plesiosaur Project:
Rural schools have an extraordinary opportunity to engage their students with the ancient and living landscapes just outside their doors. Their small class sizes and multi-generational connection with the land provide good incentive to bring the classroom out-of-doors, and to connect curricula with the real world through a multi-disciplinary approach to learning.
The plesiosaur discovered near Mitchell was one of the top predators of the ocean, and among the fastest swimmers. And this fossil, although a reptile not directly related to dinosaurs, is the most charismatic animal of the Age of Dinosaurs found in Oregon or the Northwest.
|OPLI saw an opportunity to engage the imagination and energy of Mitchell School in creating a display for the field center and a book that would bring the toothy Cretaceous predator to life—and also connect students with regional geology and paleontology—by making a model and interpretive display of this creature.|
|We worked with the school to develop a detailed plan of learning outcomes and objectives, specific lessons, and how each lesson met Oregon standards and guidelines.|
Activities , Scientists and Artists:
• Reknowned metal sculptor/paleo-artist Larry Williams worked as a resident artist to assist and inspire students in welding the plesiosaur, and learning other welding and artistic skills.
• High School 9th and 10th grade biology students visited with paleontologists at the Burke Museum of Natural History, University of Washington, to learn about plesiosaurs and related animals, and with interpretive staff at the Pacific Science Center to learn about developing and building interpretive museum displays.
• OPLI staff and staff scientists assisted teachers and instructed students in doing field research work on the Cretaceous rocks near the Plesiosaur “site” to understand the depositional environments.
Project Accomplishments Include:
• Vocational Agriculture welding class constructed and completed a 12-foot-long sculpture of the plesiosaur skeleton, and learned plesiosaur anatomy and artistic welding from master welder/paleo-artist Larry Williams.
• Biology class incorporated the plesiosaur into evolution and marine biology studies.
• Biology class developed and wrote interpretive panels with the help of paleontologists.
• The 3rd-4th-5th grades wrote and illustrated an 80-page book on Plesiosaurs and the Cretaceous sea floor, incorporating earth science, language and communication skills, mathematics, and art.
• 3rd-4th-5th grades constructed a replica of the Cretaceous sea that will be placed under the Plesiosaur sculpture as the entry-way exhibit at our Field Center in Fossil.
• All classes spent time in the field with professional geologists and paleontologists, and learned about the importance of the geology in their “back yard.”
Plesiosaur Project Funders:
We thank the following funders for their support: Ann and Bill Swindells Charitable Trust; Gray Family Fund, Oregon Community Foundation; and Wheeler County Title III.
We also thank Mitchell School’s dedicated teachers, staff, and superintendent for their creativity, collaboration, and commitment to the project and to their students.
Learn More about Plesiosaurs:
|Baby Plesiosaur animation: The National Science Foundation site provides information about—and an animation of—a baby plesiosuar (Marine Reptile) of Cretaceous age, recently discovered in Antarctica. Allow plenty of time (1-3 minutes) for the animation to download!|